DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) – At the start of the new year, Durham police will start sending officers in specialized units, such as criminal investigators, supervisors, and even the police chief, out on patrol to help boost the staffing levels as 15 percent of their officer positions are currently vacant.
As of Monday, Durham police said they have 81 sworn officer vacancies out of 537 positions.
Police said 67 of those 81 vacancies are patrol officer positions.
Durham police chief Patrice Andrews has previously said that since the beginning of the year, 36 officers have resigned from the department and 24 of those officers have gone to other law enforcement agencies.
In an effort to address the shortage, Andrews said they decided to start sending all officers, who have the rank of “investigator” and above, out on patrol for four work shifts over a three-month period from Jan 1 through March 31.
Andrews spoke with CBS 17 on Monday afternoon about this initiative.
“We are really trying to be very innovative in the work that we’re doing,” Andrews said.
Andrews said the move will add four officers to each patrol shift, which means when shifts overlap there could be as many as eight extra officers patrolling the streets at a time.
“They will be strategically located depending on which district they are needed the most,” Andrews said.
According to emails CBS 17 obtained, on some days over the past few months, patrol shifts were staffed between 50 to 65 percent — even with the extra help.
Andrews said the new plan will boost their patrol staffing levels to just below the 70 percent range.
“We want to make sure that every call is answered quickly, we want to make sure that we are reducing our response times,” Andrews said. “We’re going to be contributing just across the board. We’re not just putting officers out there. It’s been analyzed based upon which district needs the most assistance.”
As the shooting and homicide investigations continue to pile up, some in the community have questioned if criminal investigators in certain divisions will have time to help out on patrol.
Durham police told CBS 17 on Monday that the homicide unit specifically will not be participating in the patrol staffing initiative.
The department said their focus will continue to be on investigating and clearing open homicide cases.
Andrews said other investigators will work patrol for four days during that time frame, but she said the patrol work will not get in the way of their investigations.
“They would fill in on patrol during their normal workday,” Andrews said. “So they would be able to come in and if there were cases they needed to follow up on, they could certainly do that, and then whatever shift they signed up for, they could go and work that as well.”
Andrews has said that this patrol staffing initiative is only temporary.
CBS 17 asked Andrews if this initiative could go past the three-month time frame if the 80 officer vacancies are still not filled by the end of March.
“I will tell you we were very purposeful in saying this is a temporary plan,” Andrews said. “I am extremely hopeful that the pay proposal that (Durham City) Manager Page will be putting forth before council will go a long way toward making sure that we are retaining our officers and then also recruiting new officers.”
According to recent data compiled by CBS 17, the starting pay for a Durham police officer is $38,511, which lags behind the cities of Greensboro ($41,513), Raleigh ($42,300), Hillsborough ($43,227), Holly Springs ($47,932), Wake Forest ($50,243), and Cary ($51,000).
The Durham City Council will be hearing the proposal to increase officer pay at their Jan. 6 work session.
Andrews added that it is not just a pay increase alone that will recruit and retain more officers.
She said she is also looking at what can be done internally to create a better work environment for the officers, and she said support from the community can also help as well.
“It’s important that officers genuinely feel valued and supported, that does go a long way,” Andrews said.